Judge Responds to Critics of Ferry Disaster Inquiry
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) _ The judge conducting the inquiry into the Scandinavian Star ferry fire rejected charges Sunday that the proceedings were being improperly conducted.
Authorities said 160 people died in the blaze, which police are investigating as a case of arson. The 20-year-old ferry caught fire April 7 in Swedish waters on an overnight trip from Norway to Denmark.
Maritime unions in Norway and Sweden have criticized the hearings, now in their fifth day. They complained attorneys for the shipowners were dominating the questioning of witnesses and the captain has been allowed to attend all sessions after testifying as the first witness.
The Norwegian captain, Hugo Larsen, admitted he abandoned the burning ship while some passengers remained alive on board.
″We are on the borderland of parody when representatives of the ferry owners are the ones asking questions during the inquiry,″ Norwegian sailors’ union leader, Gudmund Aasheim, told the Norwegian news agency NTB.
But Marine and Trade Court President Frank Poulsen, the judge heading the hearing, said, ″The proceedings are continuing in a correct and harmonious way.″
Poulsen said the inquiry came at the request of the Danish shipowner, VR Da-No Lines, and that the presence of its representatives was required by law.
The judge said the purpose of the inquiry was to find the facts in the case. Witnesses are under oath and have been warned that their testimony could be used in any subsequent criminal case.
Representatives of the ferry’s insurers, Scandinavian marine authorities and Norwegian and Danish police are also taking part in the inquiry. About half of the expected 30 witnesses have testified.
A commission of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish maritime officials also is scheduled to hold hearings on the case following the Copenhagen marine court inquiry.